Sunday, 29 November 2015

Say nothing at all

Memories of summer
A  friend is upset because of a poor review. I sympathise. I've had some myself. We have to accept that not everyone has the same taste, in books, reading or in anything else, but some people seem so sure that the fault lies with the author and not with their own poor attention span or the fact that they chose the wrong book for their reading tastes?

These so-called reviews often consist of one star and one line, perhaps two, and  make no effort to describe the setting, the writing style or the story. They are not reviews at all, and Amazon ought not to publish them. The author probably took a year to write the book, and a one line bad-tempered comment is hardly a fair reward for that effort.

 Such people fail to find even one good point, but instead claim the book is boring, boring, boring, dismal rubbish, or words to that effect. All this in spite of the fact that the author has several good reviews from people who enjoyed the book and gave it five stars. Perhaps they don't read reviews before they buy? Perhaps they should. Or perhaps they just like writing miserable comments because it makes them feel better?
It's become a joke that there's always someone on the Trip Advisor website who rates the hotel or venue as one star with a catalogue of faults listed. I assume they were hoping to get their money back - and I hope they did not!

In these days of instant access to the world, it is so easy to rush into print if the slightest thing has niggled  your day. If causing pain and misery is your aim, then go ahead and write negative one-liners. The sensible ones among the reading public will take no notice of them, but simply sigh and say oh s/he must have had a rotten day to write something like that.

My mum always said "If you can't say something nice, say nothing at all." That's good advice for all of us.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Books galore!

On the right - a pile of books - my selection and how I spent almost all of my Amazon gift card! Missing from this is a dvd of the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and a couple of titles that are yet to arrive from a subsidiary company. One Ian Rankin title I bought for a penny!

That's my Christmas reading sewn up and possibly for some weeks to come! I received the first Christmas Card today and attended a Christmas wreath making demonstration plus lunch at today. A very good lunch it was too, with Chicken in pastry with a glass of white wine, followed by vanilla brulee.  The demonstration was very good but I'm not sure how much decoration I shall do. Perhaps a wreath for the front door - but it won't be as grand as the one made today - white roses and orchids went into the table centrepiece. I forgot to check and see if I still have some holly with its berries - the blackbirds may have nicked them all. Not that I begrudge them a few berries. I'll track some down while I'm out with Tim if necessary.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Trumpet blowing

If this is blowing one's own trumpet, the so be it! I was happy to receive this review this morning, so here it is in all its glory!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars 23 Nov. 2015
By Viviane Crystal - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition

Daisy is an 18 year-old woman who lives in the aristocratic world of Victorian England. She dreams of entering art school and developing her already adept skills, but this is a dream clearly frowned upon by almost everyone in her society. It’s one thing to dabble in painting and drawing, quite another for a woman to have a career outside of being a wife, mother, teacher or governess. Her dream is challenged by the appearance of Adam Grey, a successful mine owner, who has scrabbled his way upward after being desperately poor as a result of the failed family business. Initially, he seems like a cold, calculating, even brash young man but he is almost immediately smitten by this out-spoken yet sensitive woman, Daisy.
Into the mix a series of art and money thefts occurs. The thief is not evident because so many members of the upper class are always visiting each other for days on end. When Daisy is invited to paint an entire wall at the home of one of these aristocrats, danger explodes. An accident in a newfangled elevator, a fall, and more are added to the intense stress. Adam has taken on the job of detective, as he has nothing to do at the moment, to discover the thief and then the attacker of Daisy.
Adam and Daisy, however, are definitely attracted to each other and yet their meetings socially and privately crackle with misunderstanding and snapping conversations. Daisy, however, in spite of being cast in a manner far from her real personality, holds firm to her dream for the future and her dignity when insulted by many. Her strength is challenged further when a powerful man, Maitland, accosts Daisy several times with clear intentions of sexually possessing her while in his disgustingly perpetually alcoholic state.
This reviewer posted a review of Jen Black’s first novel many years ago and is happy to say that the writing style and plot complexity have significantly grown in this latest novel. Readers will relish the evolving love affair and the mystery radiating through every page of this pleasing Victorian novel. Very nicely crafted, Jen Black!

Friday, 20 November 2015

That wonderful thing

The format of that wonderful thing, the book, is just great and doesn't, in my view, need further changes. The Bookseller this week is claiming otherwise : article

There's so much already that comes via a small screen as well as a large one these days that I find it a relief to turn to a lovely old-fashioned book and read steadily without flicking a screen change every few seconds. Having music with it would be an intrusion, adverts even worse and surely if it has moving pictures it is encroaching on the film world?

Audio-books are OK. Not that I use them, as I need to sit down and concentrate and I'd rather do that with a printed page. I dare not listen while I'm driving, as my concentration would deviate from the road to the scenes in my head - with possible dreadful consequences!

The pic on the right is courtesy of Chris Appleby - he took this while on the Dally Rally. Tim was no longer the pristine white he was when he set off that Sunday morning - but once he was dry it all brushed off. He's been ravenous ever since! This morning dh brought in the remains of a leather purse I bought years ago on the Isle of Skye. It survived several adventures including being left under the bed in a Conall B&B and kindly posted back to me - only to be eaten by Tim. Half of the leather purse is gone, missing, absent, lost, and without doubt now resides in Tim's tummy. He left behind some soggy leather, the two first class stamps that were inside, the 2p coins and a small key. Obviously no taste in those!

Monday, 16 November 2015

Dally Rally

Did something new on Sunday - attended a Dally Rally. For those not in the know, this is a Dalmatian Rally where Dalmatian owners congregate on a nice open space and walk their dogs. Sounds simple enough. Exciting for the first time Dalmatian!
 The Rally was at Weetslade Country Park near Cramlington and about 23 Dalmatians and their owners turned up at 11am.  It was quite a sight.
I had wondered if I would be able to recognise Tim when he was in among all the other spotty dogs, but there is such variation in the size of the dogs and their individual pattern of spots that it wasn't a problem at all.

It was a dull, cloudy day and the ground was waterlogged after so much rain. That wasn't a problem. Wherever we walked, the problem would have been the same, and Dalmatians need their daily exercise. Everyone was equipped with waterfproofs and wellies and prepared to give their dogs a bath when they got home.  The fact that quite a few had become grey or even black dogs just seemed funny, because others stayed spotlessly (sorry!) white. 
Tim was raring to go while on the lead so I let him loose so he could run with the others, who were haring off in all directions. He ran a little way and then hesitated, not knowing which way to go or which dog to follow. Then he turned round and couldn't see me in all the confusion. Panic! He set off at top speed back to the car which all things considered was a sensible move on his part, except that I was only ten feet away in the opposite direction! Lots of calls and whistles brought him back. Every time he lost sight of me there was a moment of panic, but eventually he got the idea and began to run with the others. He and a young lady called Nova seemed to take a fancy to each other. It was such fun for him, and next time he'll be more confident. The added plus was that he slept for the rest of the day!

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Free promos

Free promos on Kindle have certainly changed in four or five years. The first time I got one organised was back in March 2011, and nearly 18,000 downloads went out on one historical romance. The numbers changed on the screen as I watched it, which was one of the most exciting things I've ever seen. Even Germany downloaded 93 copies, and France, Italy and Spain all participated. A contemporary story proved much less popular, but compared to the figures today, did very well.

Now, from my perspective at least, downloading free books is much less popular. Perhaps, like me, people have kindles full of free titles they haven't yet read. Perhaps readers have discovered how much dross there is out there. Maybe they think my stories are part of it! Whatever the reason, free promos have changed. Maybe the pendulum has swung and we're all going back to print books.

We've had rain and wind for days which means most of the leaves have disappeared now. They clog up the streams which are roaring down the valleys, scouring them clean after being dry for a good part of the summer.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

How do you Write 3

My problem with old maps and gateways continued after I'd sent in the post. Found another map, this time drawn from the English perspective. A tad disconcerting in that the artist had obviously been sitting on a ladder at Leith and drew everything the other way around to the previous maps I'd seen. But it was dated 1544 and was drawn by the attacking English as they arrived to raze Edinburgh to the ground - exactly the time of my story! The map is in the British Library rather than the National Library of Scotland. It showed men attacking the gate - the Water Gate - yippee. I rushed off and re-wrote bits of the chapter to fit the new information.

Unfortunately it did not show the mysterious vanishing gate on the south side of the town. Even if it was there when the English artist arrived, it would not have shown on the drawing, since it was drawn from the northern side. So, I've sent my hero  another way - possibly using a bit of poetic licence, but I'm writing fiction after all. I almost started another hunt but decided to leave well alone. The pieces I found declared that no one quite knew the extent of the Nor Loch nor how long it had been there. They knew when it vanished (or drained away) but according to some it appeared rather suddenly in the 1400s, as a defence against raiders from the sea. Other reports said there had been a lake in much earlier times. So my hero got his feet wet.

Amazingly  my car reported an outside temperature of 17 degrees today when I was out for a walk, and it was gorgeous in the woods. The sun slanted down through the branches and the pathways are covered in gold because the wind had brought down all the yellow pine needles at once. (Actually they may be larch or spruce, but they look wonderful.)

Sunday, 8 November 2015

How do you write - 2

spiders work overnight
 Yesterday I didn't think I was going to write very much on how  my writing was done. Today I am thinking differently, hence the figure 2 in the subject line.

Today I was editing a chapter in my wip in which the hero attempts to escape Edinburgh when it is attacked by the English in 1544. There is possibly an irony in that he is English, but the love of life is Scots, and he wants to take her back to England. First of all, they have to get out of Edinburgh, but the gates have been closed - to keep the English out. Then I wondered why I was telling my characters to ride for the West Port (gate) when they wanted, indeed needed, to ride south. Got out the atlas, checked the city of Edinburgh map and made sure it was on the west-east axis that I'd remembered. (Well, of course it was - but these things suddenly sound doubtful when you are in the middle of writing a scene!)
But, I thought, shouldn't they have been heading for the South Port?

That meant searching for the map  of Edinburgh in the 1540s that I remembered using. I couldn't find it in my "research" collection files. Lots of maps of Dublin, past and present, west coast of Scotland, but none of Edinburgh. Grrr. Maybe I hadn't kept a photocopy of the map after all. Back online, I found the required map and hastily checked for gates. Hampered a trifle by the fact that the names were in Latin, which I never did at school, and that the map was very small, I successfully enlarged it so I could see it fantastic detail, but then couldn't figure out a way to print at such a huge size. I found that the key in the corner of the screen had the names in Latin, certainly, but when I looked at all the listings, they were in Scots as well. Since that's English as near as damnit, I was flying.

Then I realised the map was for 1580. Hastily moved back to the one for 1540 and discovered there was a south gate that by 1580  had disappeared - therefore I didn't have a name for it. The wretched gate was there in 1540, I could send my characters through it, but I didn't know what to call it. There are four other gates, all named, present in 1540 and still there in 1580 - but not the one I want. Still, if it has disappeared that long ago, who will know what it was called? At least it was there. I'll say it is the gate at the end of  x street. And that little bit of research has taken the best part of an hour and half.

Friday, 6 November 2015

How do you write?

Most authors write the same way. They write, they edit, (again and again) and finally publish. Seems so simple. But there are so many divergent pathways on the simple route map. Some authors plan the whole thing by doing a synopsis or a chapter outline and some stick to it and some don’t. Others claim to sit down each day with no clear idea of what is going to come, but just write. The thought of a lot of dead ends and judicious weeding, if not downright chaos at the editing stage, puts me off this method.

My efforts usually begin with a rough plan centred around a character, sometimes male ie Matho in Abduction and my current wip and sometimes female, ie Daisy in The Craigsmuir Affair. I start off knowing what they want, but not always how they’re going to achieve their goal. If the character “lives” the plot usually moves in spurts as I think of a good idea and weave it in. If the character is more dead than alive, the plot fails to develop and I let it go or change my character.

I belong to a critique group and usually wait until I’m doing a second draft before sending each chapter off to them. I’ve tried doing it as I go through the first draft, but that puts pressure on thinking the thing up and often gets messy with plot twists. Few chapters return without requiring changes, but I feel I’ve achieved something if the worst they can do is indicate where I’ve missed a comma!

My last chapter came back with several critiquers saying that I’d set up problems and I saw at once what they meant, and hastily made appropriate changes. Once I get to the end of the critiques, it’s back to the beginning again to read through to see if the whole plot hangs together. Then there’s another check for mistakes and typos. Then a final check to make sure it’s as good as I can make it. That’s about five edits in all, and that might not be the end of it. Somewhere around the end of the second edit I’ll start thinking of publication and covers, whether it is worth sending out to agents or not.
All in all, it’s a lot of work. Sometimes taking the dog out for a long walk seems so much easier!

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Facebook groups

The Writers' Group on Facebook looked interesting but with hindsight I should have taken more notice of the sub-heading : Bring your inner monsters and let them run amok.

At least they'd got the apostrophe in the right place in the group name and there were lots of members listed so I decided to give it a go. Wow. I posted the cover for Magican's Bride - the one I did - and what a reception I got! So bad I went out and bought a cover, the first paid cover I've ever had. Now that too is getting a drubbing! If anyone is feeling brave, take a look and see what's going on. Some days it is poetry that gets the rotten tomatoes, sometimes its other things. I'm hoping they're as keen to express liking as they are to be nasty so I keep on glancing at the site. There's a lot of traffic and things whizz through pretty fast. I suspect, though I haven't been around long enough to find out, that it is a small few who contribute so energetically. It is usually that way.

I should say that I am part of several other groups, all of which are quieter, more sedate and generally nicer in tone. Sometimes groups can be cliquey and some just run out of steam after a few months. They're always interesting, and as someone once said, you get out what you put in. Or was it the other around? Anyway, contributing is the key, so I'll keep on with my little comments and see what happens.

Friday, 30 October 2015

A new cover reveal

Had a great birthday yesterday - lunch out at Bradley Hall Gardens ( followed by an afternoon walk with Tim where he met a new friend called Lucca and ran himself silly with her in the sunshine. Then dh and I went out for the evening and had a meal at the Black Bull in Corbridge. 1755 is inscribed in wobbly hand carving over a window lintle, and it certainly looks old inside - in a good way!
Our meal was good. Not fancy haute cuisine, but satisfying in a homely way.

One way and another I had a fair amount of  sauvignon blanc over the day, but felt wonderful  on it, both last night and this morning.  It's a good thing I felt OK this morning because I've already been out for a walk in the rain with Tim and it is only 9.30. Its a grey, grey day and fit only for doing lots of work inside. The washing machine is already purring away as I write.

Loaded a new cover onto Magician's Bride yesterday.  I paid money for this one ! so we'll see if it has any effect on sales.  I have two versions; one has no rose petals to signify the romance element. There's also a little less colour throughout, but I went with the more colourful cover. It is growing on me. I like it more and more each time I look at it.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Puzzling PR

Like a book, I suppose the first words of a blog post need to catch the attention of passing readers. Is it the words, or the picture that grabs attention?  Who knows? Different things for different folks.

Today I decided I need to be more professional in my approach to promoting books. So I'm exploring the dizzy world of graphic artists, with a view to (gulp!) purchasing a cover picture. When I have time I intend to do a few courses on learning more about doing covers, but for now I'll see what a bought cover can do for me.

Promotion has not been high on my agenda for ages, and though it might not be the only one, it is probably one reason why sales are going down. (Personally I blame Amazon and Kindle Unlimited, but that's something I cannot prove!) When I went back and visited a lot of my old haunts, I found that the state of yahoo groups has changed while I haven't been looking. Some have changed their slant and no longer take selling posts, others just seem to have dropped way down in popularity, others have vanished or gone into limbo. Some are still there, but I get the feeling that they're struggling.

It's a puzzle. Something must have taken their place, but I don't know what it might be. Paid advertising? Possibly. Other social media have sprung up recently and though I recognise the names, I've never joined or even looked to see what they offer. Perhaps it is time I rectified that. Some research is required.

While I do this research, my work on the second draft of Matho's Story is coming along nicely. I have a working title at last - The QUEEN'S COURIER, and only fifty pages to go before I reach the end for the second time. I've taken out a chunk of the middle section, diverted the story line to a better trail, and wrote one whole new chapter as well as cutting and pasting three others, juggling placements and characters as necessary. The result is pleasing - definitely a job worth doing. I finished a chapter this morning, and these were the last lines I wrote today:

When her shoulders rounded in dejection, Matho saw something inexpressibly tender and youthful in the gentle curve of her spine.

‘No,’ she said in a tired voice. ‘She wouldna want to be moved.’ She left his knee and bent over the cauldron. Dipping a wooden ladle, she filled a bowl and brought it to him. ‘Eat. Ah didna make it to waste it.’

Saturday, 24 October 2015


Judging by the Twitter feed #The Last Kingdom, the show is a hit.

So this is what the audience of today likes to watch - people stabbed through the back of the neck, nailed to a tree, a young lad blinded. I spent a good deal of the show flinching and closing my eyes, not because I didn't know what was coming  but because there's a huge difference in reading about violence and watching it. At least, I think there is.

The ingredients of the stories can all be found in the sagas out of Scandinavia and Iceland. Reading them, I'm safe in the knowledge that it all happened a thousand years ago. The same applies to the Cornwell books which I read because Bamburgh is local for me. (Though I think I never got round to the last in the series.) Maybe it applies to a bit of psychology I heard on television the other night - that we all love to be scared (via films) to prove that we're alive and safe. Maybe like everything else it is a stage we go through, for I can remember paying to go to cinemas in my youth and watching all manner of frightening films from Dracula to Omen and the Exorcist - and loving it. Now I find I don't feel the same. I doubt audiences today would find those films particularly frightening. Which in a way is  sad. Does it mean their perceptions of the world are less secure than mine were, or are they just more hardened to violemce than I was?

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The truth about covers

It is a good thing that Amazon Kindle allows changes of information such as price and book cover because I need to change the cover for The Magician's Bride. I ventured into an American group online recently and received the news that my cover was - well nobody actually said it, but I gather the operative word would have been one beginning with an S and ending with a T. They weren't unpleasant, just honest - brutally honest! To be fair, once I asked why, I received answers and saw my mistakes -  they were glaringly obvious - once someone pointed them out! I also received help in the guise of names and websites, of people who could help, which was good.

In a way it is sad, because I enjoy using Photoshop, have spent hours on a potential cover only to have it shot down. What it really means is if I want to do it, then I have to take some courses and progress what skills I have. I know there are graphic artists out there ready, willing and a lot more able than I am to do a good cover for a reasonable price. It isn't the price - I simply enjoy doing it! It makes a welcomes relaxation from struggling with words and commas.

I don't think I'm arrogant to try. If we never do anything new, we get nowhere, do we? To be honest, I didn't think Kindle covers, which many people see as a thumbnail, were so vitally important. I have learned a lesson. Anyone got the humble pie and a knife handy?

Friday, 16 October 2015

Second drafts

Has anyone else discovered what an odd feeling it is to check the Kindle stats  and see how many pages (of your book) people have read overnight?
I get a little kick of pleasure every time I see a good number up there. OTOH, there was the time someone  grabbed Abduction while it was free for a day and read one page and never went back to it! Odd insights we get these days from Amazon's technology.

I feel as if I'm really getting to grips with Matho's sequel, but wish I could think of a decent title for it. I'm up to chapter twenty-two in my run through and enjoying the chance to enhance the tale by all sorts of things: taking out redundancies, combining two separate sentences into one more interesting one and generally adding stronger verbs and more interesting descriptions. (Some were pretty mundane, I have to admit!) I've tweaked the plot-line around chapter 15, too. I suppose that would be the sagging middle everyone talks about. I decided what was happening was too similar to what had happened before, so I took Matho off in a new direction and the story works much better for it.

The good thing about doing this a couple of years after I did the first draft is that I know the ending and I know my characters so much better - and of course, as we all know, practice makes perfect. My writing has improved - not that I'm perfect yet, but I'm better than I was!